The Great Survivors

by: Qamar Abbas

January 16, 2015

Education is not preparation for life; education is life itself.” (John Dewey)

16th December, the day every Pakistani remembered for a single reason before 2014: the fateful separation of East Pakistan from West Pakistan and the emergence of a new state called Bangladesh, in 1971. That incident snatched the valuable lives of a lot of soldiers while many others became prisoners of war and endured great pains over the course of the next few years. Every Pakistani still observes that day as Black Day. Little did we know that Pakistan would associate a new shade of blackness to 16th December in the year 2014! This gruesome and bloodstained day is a day of sorrow and bereavement for not only Pakistan, but the entire world, for this was the day when terrorists stampeded over an orchard in a manner that is truly beyond description. A branch of Army Public School in Peshawar was attacked by these godless monsters, leaving behind torn parents, shocked friends, and a bruised nation. It must have started out like any other day, just another dreary Tuesday morning colored by the booming laughter of throngs of children making their way to their school, the place they knew as well as their homes. But the next few hours told a completely different story altogether. The dusk carried cries of grief and torment, the building once ringing with the exuberance of young lives was left tattered to shreds and tainted with blood. As per the media reports, nearly 140 children were martyred alongside teachers and staff members. Whilst it is true that the buds that were nipped that day will never return to us, the whole nation joined hands in its broken heartedness. Every person, every civil society member, every government official did whatever little they could manage to articulate their deep condemnation of this heinous atrocity.

Everybody stoop up and spoke up to save our children, save our schools, save our future. Not a single heart was left unmoved by this event and numerous projects and campaigns (such as “We Shall Rise and Shine”) geared towards rehabilitating the nation were commenced. In such times, the Peshawar based Education Youth Ambassadors played a key role as they protested against Tehrik-e-Taliban (the militant group who took responsibility for the massacre) outside Press Club Peshawar. Candle light vigils were held throughout Peshawar and the rest of Pakistan as well. Our very brave, forthright, and capable peer Education Youth Ambassador Syeda Anam Sana Naqvi took it upon herself to commemorate Peace Jirgas, and raise a voice against violence and bigotry.

Similarly I, Muhammad Shiraz, in my capacity as Education Youth Ambassador conversed with the Trustee/Advisor of Idara-e-Taleem-o-Aagahi Miss Baela Raza Jamil and initiated a rehabilitation based project titled “The Great Survivors.” This project aims to collect survivors’ testimonies and interviews and help their stories find their way to the world. In doing so, we not only hope to help the survivors achieve closure, but also to have their stories reach the hearts of everyone across the world so that collective action can be taken in preventing terrorist attacks that Pakistan is always under the shadow of.

So meet “The First Great Survivor” of Peshawar Army Public School incident Hassan Mukhtar. Hassan Mukhtar is a young and energetic boy from Sawabi, the son of Mr. Mukhtar Ahmad Khan. He is a student of 9th grade. And on 16th December he was in the main auditorium hall with almost 400 other friends of his for the First Aid Demonstration that ended in such momentous bloodshed. According to Hassan: “It was 10:15 am and everyone was happy to learn something new, suddenly 2 men walked into the auditorium from the back door and started shooting the innocent students. I ,along with 3 other friends of mine, was sitting in the 5th row of the auditorium. All of a sudden one of my friends got injured after receiving a bullet on his left arm, I put off my sweater and tied it tightly around the wound. After continuous firing of almost 4 to 5 minutes, terrorists went out of the hall, the only thing I could see was the blood and the dead bodies strewn everywhere on the floor. That was the time when we got a small opportunity to get out of the auditorium. We had two options: either to escape from the auditorium from the school wing side or to run via the college wing side. I ran towards the school wing side with some of my fellows while a large number of students used the exit way on college wing side. This split second of running out the less used way saved my life as all the students who tried to escape through the college wing exit were shot dead. And so we came safely out of the auditorium hall and met Madam Saima Tariq (Shaheed) who successfully rescued us.”

While answering another question about the role of Principal Madam Tahira Qazi and Madam Saima Tariq, Hassan Mukhtar expressed that “no amount of praise is enough to describe their sacrifice. Madam Tahira had left the auditorium almost 5 minutes before the attack. She played an immensely important role as she rescued almost 70 children and ordered teachers to close the doors of class rooms. When the army started their rescue operation Madam Tahira was the first person whom Army rescued successfully but she came back saying my children need me and I absolutely cannot leave them alone. And as she entered the school again the ruthless militants shot her in the head and chest and she embraced martyrdom on the spot. Similarly Madam Saima Tariq, one of the most polite teachers of APS was also rescued by Army in injured state but she chose to come in again and stand in front of a militant proclaiming that they had to go through her before they could harm her students. That was when the militants portrayed sheer barbarianism and set her on fire. She too, unable to endure the wounds, embraced martyrdom.”

15 year old Hassan said that “the total of 35 students of 9th class embraced martyrdom including four of my best friends.” According to Hassan the security arrangements of Army Public School Peshawar had already come under a lot of fire and scrutiny weeks before the attack as several security guards from different parts of the school were removed from their positions. Hassan’s father, Mr. Mukhtar Ahmad Khan said that “I am paying extra money included in the fee for security. When they removed the security guards I paid a visit to the principal and discussed my concerns with her, she was very cordial and assured me that she would look into the matter. But unfortunately she was never given the chance to as this grievous incident took place two days later. But I can’t thank Allah enough as He saved both my children, because those 3 hours of my life while I stood outside the school and expected to see nothing but dead bodies were a few of the toughest of my life.”.

Hassan and his brother Azzan alongside their father Mr Mukhtar Ahmad appreciated the role of all students and the Education Youth Ambassadors and spoke of how this incident had motivated them to do better and fight terrorism through education. They offered the Up For School campaign their full support and signed the petition, saying that no weapon in the world had anything on a pen.

I would like to express my gratitude to Mr. Mukhtar Ahmed for being a wonderful host and for showing exemplary courage and conviction in support of education. Your resilience and resolve to fight extremism and its perpetrators is indeed commendable.

Hassan MukhtarHassan Mukhtar

Azzan, Hassan, and Mr Mukhtar AhmedAzzan Mukhtar, Hassan Mukhtar, and Mr Mukhtar Ahmad

Hassan Mukhtar and Azzan Mukhtar signing the Up For School PetitionAzzan and Hassan Mukhtar signing the Up For School Petition

Mr Mukhtar Ahmed signing the Up For School PetitionMr Mukhtar Ahmed signing the Up For School Petition